Legal Empowerment | NYU School of Law

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In 2019, 5.1 billion people worldwide were found to live outside the protection of the law. Global pandemics, climate emergencies, threats to democracy, racism, and income inequality continue to exacerbate this justice crisis. This is a crisis of injustice, and it calls for a deep change in approach to alter the basic conditions of those who experience persistent injustice. Legal empowerment—a global movement led by grassroots, with lawyers and other professionals in supporting, rather than leading, roles—is a crucial part of the justice transformation that is needed. It is a rights-based methodology that democratizes laws and centers people in their own fight for justice by creating opportunities for people to “know, use, and shape” the laws that impact their lives. Legal empowerment takes many forms, from community paralegal programs, to community driven campaigns, popular education efforts, and community-driven litigation, among others.

The Bernstein Institute is the only U.S. legal academic center dedicated to advancing research, education, and advocacy on legal empowerment in the United States and globally. We teach law students to act as allies instead of “experts,” and partner with grassroots activists, lawyers, and scholars to think collectively about how to use the law to address structural injustice. A central tenet of the work is the redistribution of legal power – with communities in the lead in defining the justice they seek.


Through our legal empowerment programs we support and learn from our community partners as they build power, dignity, and knowledge to actively challenge inequities impacting their communities. We organize trainings on legal empowerment, co-create legal education and empowerment resources, co-produce participatory action research on the power of community justice, and hold convenings to highlight the success and promise of legal empowerment.

Education: Global Learning Initiatives and Conferences

  • Organize the Legal Empowerment Learning Lab, a groundbreaking workshop
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